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“问世间, 情为何物, 直教生死相许?”
I ask the world: what makes love so powerful that it is even worth dying for?
– Yuán Hàowèn 元好问 (1190-1257)

Winter storm: lightning flashes old ghosts on my blade. The
   metal light as a carp piercing through the dragon’s gate.

When shīfù still lived: she taught me that growth is a shattering
   of murky fins raining into silver scales, that

a promise means swimming against the current, flailing
   up from the river to chance immortal wells.

That to wander the earth is to break
   the body and demand its change
            again and again.


When the mountain lost its forests and shīfù and
   shīxiōngmen died with the flames, I learned that

the current is always stronger in the face of annihilation.
   That I had to drown beneath the tide to see the aftermath.

For these days I cannot hear the difference
   between the searing water and the whirling wind.

And maybe this is where the dream begins:
   your arrival in a thunder of wings,
      swallow-tender qì swooping from the heavens –
an immortal crane amidst the screams and blackened trees –

   a silence so resounding I recognized you years later
      at a distant inn by only that feather-silk gaze:
your careful hands carving a dízǐ into leftover firewood.

Floodwater pulling me down, I kneeled, pleading,
   “How I can repay this life debt?”

Yet, you
   gracious like the summer breeze
rose me into your arms,
      breathing: Stay


   Maybe this is the dream: your long hair drifting in the wind,
ten thousand sun-baked arrows crescent with a hot fury.
   Tiles kicked loose from the rooftop. Your sword gleaming
a battle that you will chase and I will follow.
      How a war can be waged forever.

   Wine mixing with cherry blossoms and inkstone, you confessed
that you read all three-hundred poems in the Shījīng yet it did not
   make you a poet. Under sliced moonlight, you chiseled my name

into the dízǐ you made a dream ago, jade carp dangling
   on red string. You drunkenly pressed your gǔqín
into your lap, fallen petals swirling as you began the chorus.

         Morning comes: the music never ends –

   知音, 知音
Love exists in the margins of
      what words cannot say.

Lanterns rising over the lake, fires blaze
the single-plank bridge to our epilogue.

Blood gracing your lips, you dare ask
what I wished for as if we don’t

share the same heart. Remember that story
of the wild goose that cried and cried,

refusing to abandon its captured mate? We once
named fires the spring bloom of flowers

because we believed that we couldn’t get burned.
No flowers bloom in this poem but you.


One day it will be summer, and you will wander through the tall grass.
The magnolias will forget their bloom, and the wind will grow wide draping
endless lǐ over our nameless graves. The teahouses will be full, the crowds burying
melancholy with jasmine and sweet osmanthus. The storyteller will sing about us
the way that everyone is sung when one wanderer’s tale is told – like how every
gǔqín played calls to the old masters who came before.

This ageless-old dream:
Only the roots remain

Laura Ma is a Chinese-American writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in The Offing, Claw & Blossom, and Kissing Dynamite, among other places. In her free time, she enjoys studying linguistics and reading in the afternoon sun. She attends UC Berkeley. Find her on Twitter @goldenhr3.
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